Torah Tuesdays: Lessons in Living from Moses our Mentor - Shemot [Part One]

January 29, 2014

Here at Interfaithfulness, our vision statement says, "Exploring the synergy between Judaism and Christianity, partnership between Christians and Jews, and the relationship between God's tomorrow and our today." From this vision statement flows a wide variety of initiatives--ways of changing the worlds of thought, word, relationship and action. One of those initiatives is mentoring people who may be intrigued by or committed to the synergy that is meant to exist between the Jewish and Christian worlds.  We coach people, groups, and just about anyone seeking deeper understanding and transformation for life and relationships.  Sometimes these people are part of intermarriage family constellations; often they are not.

We value a biblical base for such efforts. As the Director of Interfaithfulness, I myself was mentored by the world's premier Bible-based mentor, Dr. Bobby Clinton. His perspective and often his materials tweaked from a Jewish point of view show up in our practice all the time.

With that in mind, for the next three months, as an experiment, every Tuesday is going to be a Torah Tuesday, looking at the passages in Torah for what they have to teach us about a well-lived life.  We will call these "Torah Tuesdays." You can expect to find a Torah teaching here every Tuesday until Passover here at Interfaithfulness. As we follow the flow of traffic to our site, if it turns out these teachings become popular we may well continue the practice. If these lessons result in a ho-hum response, then we may just stop offering them after our trial period. It's up to you and the friends you may direct to our site--the more the merrier.

But for now, here is the beginning of Moses' story from Parashat  Shemot, the beginning of the Book of Exodus:

 1 These are the names of the sons of Isra'el who came into Egypt with Ya'akov; each man came with his household: 2 Re'uven, Shim'on, Levi, Y'hudah, 3 Yissakhar, Z'vulun, Binyamin, 4 Dan, Naftali, Gad and Asher. 5 All told, there were seventy descendants of Ya'akov; Yosef was already in Egypt. 6 Yosef died, as did all his brothers and all that generation. 7 The descendants of Isra'el were fruitful, increased abundantly, multiplied and grew very powerful; the land became filled with them.

images-48 Now there arose a new king over Egypt. He knew nothing about Yosef 9 but said to his people, "Look, the descendants of Isra'el have become a people too numerous and powerful for us. 10 Come, let's use wisdom in dealing with them. Otherwise, they'll continue to multiply; and in the event of war they might ally themselves with our enemies, fight against us and leave the land altogether." 11 So they put slavemasters over them to oppress them with forced labor, and they built for Pharaoh the storage cities of Pitom and Ra'amses.

We know that Moses was born into the line of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Sarah, Rebeecca, Rachel and Leah, and that the ancestors had relayed divine promises that this people was destined for greatness. He was born into a family that had certain family expectations. Particularly, he was born into the tribe of Levi. Levi was the third son of Jacob’s wife Leah, She was the less desired sister of Jacob’s favorite wife Rachel. Leah’s sons were resentful of Rachel’s sons, since their mom was regarded as second-best in comparison to her beautiful sister. They took out their frustrations on Rachel’s son Joseph, who his father’s favorite, faked his death, and sold him into slavery in Egypt.

With his brother, Simeon, Levi took hasty action on another occasion, when he took vengeance on Hamor the Son of Shechem, and the people of his village, because Hamor had had who had sex with their sister, Dinah, Simeon and Levi plotted and took revenge, wiping out the Shechemites. When their father Jacob was on his death bed, he denied them an inheritance with these words:

   “Simeon and Levi are brothers;

weapons of violence are their swords.

   Let my soul come not into their council;

O my glory, be not joined to their company.

For in their anger they killed men,

and in their willfulness they hamstrung oxen.

   Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce,

and their wrath, for it is cruel!

I will divide them in Jacob

and scatter them in Israel.

If stories were told about Levi in Moses’ home, they most likely talked about him as a headstrong man of action, who took matters into his own hands when nobody else could or would do anything, These were potent words for Moses to hear so early in his life. We will see later how that background influenced Moses' own choices.  But for now take note that Levi was one of Moses’ dominant relatives.

images-5Moses is also a third child. His sister Miriam is the oldest, his brother Aaron is next, and three years later, Moses. So he is the baby in the birth order. He is also born in stressful transitional times. A new King, a new regime has taken over in Egypt. The Hebrews had been comfortable there since the time of Joseph but no longer. The new king is suspicious of them, even giving orders that all male Israelite children are to be killed at birth. This is part of his historical context.

So it is that Moses is born in a time of transition, turmoil, and danger into a family under stress, with somewhat noble but revolutionary roots. By clever maneuverings of his mother, he is adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter and grows up in the palace. But he is still the third child, following in the footsteps of Levi, another third child of a particular kind of family. Things will get interesting and violent soon enough.

And it is fascinating, is it not, that we learn nothing about his father, Amram. Perhaps he is just preoccupied with being a slave.

There can be no doubt that your famlly background and historical context helped shape who you are and the kinds of choices you have made in life.  That doesn’t mean these things determine the kind of person you will be, but without any doubt they have influenced the kind of person you are.  Your genetics, your family’s history, dominant and passive relatives both alive and gone, social context, historical context, family trauma, the kinds of family stories you grew up with, all of these kinds of things imprinted you in some manner. The chief variables in this area are two: [1] How aware are you of these factors? {2] How engaged are you in leveraging these factors in a positive manner?

So my questions for you is this:  As you entered and walked about life’s stage, what was your entry context? What were your family’s expectations, dominant relatives, passive relatives, sibling relationships and birth order, historical context you were born into. Pause for a moment and consider: How have these factors shown up in your life?

Lessons in Living

1. None of us are just born, we are all born into a context. That context has very much to do with the life we will live.

Looking at Moses, we see him born into a marginalized people, a descendant of a marginalized leader [Levi] who took matters into his own hands. Even though raised under the protection of Pharaoh’s daughter who treated him like a son, he was nursed by his Hebrew mother, and spent the first four or five years of his life with his parents and two older siblings, all of them marginalized slaves craving freedom and life in the Land of Promise. His life of luxury in Pharaoh’s circles likely made him feel more keenly the distress and injustice of the plight of his birth family and the people from which he came. The stories his mother (and father?) told him about Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their tribe—especially Levi, were imprinted on him at a key age in life when identity is being deeply formed.

What do you think the chances are that his interventions on behalf of the Israelites, including his slaying of an Egyptian taskmaster ,were in some manner the outgrowth of his outrage at the abuses suffered by his people, and his expression of his illustrious ancestor’s history as an outraged outsider?

2. When you succeed, some will celebrate with you, and others will plot against you.

We see this here in the response of the new Pharaoh to the Israelite’s strength and multiplication. In a word, even Pharaoh, and no doubt at least some of the Egyptians were threatened by the success of the children of Israel. Yet others no doubt admired and in a benign way, envied the success of the children of Israel. In fact, there are two kinds of envy: benign and admiring, and malignant and resentful.  You have encountered both in your life and will continue to do so.

So don’t be naïve or unaware: when you succeed, some will celebrate with you, and others will plot against you, or at least resent you!

3.  Bad things will happen, even if you are doing nothing wrong, so expect these kinds of things will happen,  learn to roll with life’s punches, and don’t waste time and energy beating yourself up or feeling sorry for yourself.  

12 But the more the Egyptians oppressed them, the more they multiplied and expanded, until the Egyptians came to dread the people of Isra'el 13 and worked them relentlessly, 14 making their lives bitter with hard labor -digging clay, making bricks, all kinds of field work; and in all this toil they were shown no mercy. 15 Moreover, the king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was called Shifrah and the other Pu'ah. 16 "When you attend the Hebrew women and see them giving birth," he said, "if it's a boy, kill him; but if it's a girl, let her live." 17 However, the midwives were God-fearing women, so they didn't do as the king of Egypt ordered but let the boys live.

4. Even the most ordinary people are capable of extraordinary valor.  And that can be you.

My friend Michael Rydelnik tells the story of his mother. He tells how she was very neurotic and self-involved person. However, she also spent 5 ½ years in Nazi concentration camps, where she a prisoner and a nurse.  She was put in charge of the typhus patients. She was in a building of some kind, perhaps a hut, but certainly not a true hospital, with all of these patients and maybe a handful of aspirin for a whole month at a time. She was a Jewish believer in Yeshua who kept her Bible throughout the war by hiding it under the typhus patients, because she knew that none of the Nazis would get close enough to the patients to look there! Every day she was responsible to report to the Nazis the registration numbers of the patients in her care. And every day she lied about the registration numbers, supplying false numbers, because she knew that if any patient showed up three days in a row on that list, they would be liquidated. She also knew that if the Nazis discovered her deception, she would be executed. Here was a very ordinary woman doing extraordinary things.

Shifra and Puah were like that. Ordinary women, doing extraordinary things. My grandmother was a living tribute to these ladies: her name was Shifra. And like them, each of us has many opportunities every day to do the unexpected, to do extraordinary acts of awareness, of principle, of kindness.

What will you do the next time you see a homeless person on the street?  What will you do the next time you see someone treated unfairly or abusively?  What will you do about injustices that others tolerate? Even as an ordinary person, just by doing something where others do nothing, you can be extraordinary.

18 The king of Egypt summoned the midwives and demanded of them, "Why have you done this and let the boys live?" 19 The midwives answered Pharaoh, "It's because the Hebrew women aren't like the Egyptian women -they go into labor and give birth before the midwife arrives." 20 Therefore  very powerful. 21 Indeed, because the midwives feared God, he made them founders of families. 22 Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: "Every boy that is born, throw in the river; but let all the girls live."

4. Although you won’t be spared calamity, if you are living for the right things, you will find that God meets you in the midst of life with unexpected benefit.

David Murdock is 90 years old.  He is also worth about 4.2 billion dollars.

A few years ago he spoke at Cal State Northridge. He reported that during the depression he was thrown out of high school, and left his family home because they could no longer feed him.  He was hungry, poor, and had six cents in his pocket. He wandered into a diner where he was finally going to spend that’s six cents which is been coming around for months. The owner of the diner engaged him in conversation, and discovered that he was out of school and out of the home and out of luck. The owner gave him a job. Eventually that man died, and David Murdoch borrowed some money and bought the diner.

What he spoke at Cal State Northridge, he said that if you go into his office today, you will find a plaque on the wall behind his desk. Embedded in that plaque you will find the six cents he carried around in his pocket during the Depression when he was so very poor and without hope.

He drew a lesson from his life which he shared with the students when they spoke of the University. He said that if you will join your passion to your principles, luck will meet you at every turn.

This is similar to what the Bible has to teach us: If you will live for the right things and give yourself to them, God will see that you receive unexpected benefit. That benefit has two major components: a sense of abundance and a sense of safety.

And by the way, he has not been spared calamity. One of his sons was killed when he struck his head in the swimming pool on their estate, and other son died in a car accident. His remaining son works for him. He has been married five times.

You may not become as rich as David Murdoch, but you can certainly have a sense of abundance and safety if you live for the right things, no matter what kind of background you come from, no matter what challenges you face, and no matter how ordinary you believe yourself to be.

A Lesson in Living from the Sages of Israel

In Midrash Shemot Rabbah 1:31 it is written how Moses became “heavy of mouth” as he will later describe himself to God at Sinai. As a young lad, he was seen throwing Pharaoh’s gold crown down to the ground. It was an act of insolence, so Pharaoh devised a test to see of Moshe realized the implications of his act. He commanded that a platter with a piece of gold and a burning piece of coal be brought to Moshe and he would be asked to choose one. If he chose the gold piece, it meant he understood the value and would have been killed, but if he chose the coal, then it meant he did not differentiate and he would be then spared. So Moshe began to reach for the gold when an angel pushed his hand aside and he grabbed the coal and that burnt his lips and tongue so badly he had problems speaking the rest of his life.,

The tradition teaches that that some apparent bad events can save our lives in some way and can even be the criteria for being chosen for great things, like God choosing Moses because he was not eloquent of speech and so would not accrue the glory and honor to himself that belonged to God alone.

(If you are interested in knowing more about Interfaitfulness Coaching, our mentoring approach. give us a call at 626-765-4359)

3 comments on “Torah Tuesdays: Lessons in Living from Moses our Mentor - Shemot [Part One]”

  1. In our daily lives we often forget that God not only can but frequently does work behind the scenes........ I like the example given: Midrash Shemot Rabbah 1:31
    Informative article, Rabbi.

  2. Moses family and dealings with God makes me think of my own family circumstances.. I will share a little. God brought me born into a Jewish family I am not the oldest child but the only son. I was a good son very obedient never caused much trouble to my parents. Went to Hebrew school learned my Bar Mitzvah readings and made my parents proud. Did well in school nothing extraordinary but no problem. Never disagreed or asserted myself in my growing up years in the family. was expected to go to college and I did. Attended Georgia Tech studied civil engineering although I had pretty poor grade I did manage to graduate . Was not really very interested in the subject bit thought I had to do continue because my parents expected it. Also as a very accepting easy going person I never pushed the limits or had the initiative to change course. Did get a chance to work in Israel for a year when I was 25, turned out to be a life changing event for me. This was my relationship with my parents until my late 20s when I met a woman (non-Jewish ) fell in love and married within 6 months of meeting. Life was about to dramatically change.... My parents did not care for my wife treating her with condescension and disrespect. I was stuck ,,, I loved my parents could not tell them to stop their behavior after all I was a good son. And had a new wife who would not accept their very poor attitude understandably. And.... At the very same time my interest in Jesus grew in leaps and bounds....he spoke to me as I read the gospels and as I started listening to Christian radio broadcasts I could not deny the truth of what he spoke to me... How in the world was the good obedient son ever going to tell his beloved parents... Well I did tell them... They were devastated . And so I have been on this adventure with the Jewish messiah ever since 27 years ago. For someone who God made to be a gentle obedient sensitive spirit.... That time was a huge challenge for me to be thrown into a very chaotic emotional situation.
    I am no longer a civil engineer retired from that over 8 years ago now I do what is dear to my heart I am a gardener taking care of my customers plants and doing all the labor which I love by the way. Lots more but I think that is all for now. Thank you Rabbi for your blog.a

  3. Thank you Rabbi. You are right I had no one to go to.. Part of it was my own doing... Keeping things to myself not wanting to make a big deal about things even though it actually was a huge deal!! I was much younger around 30 years old .. I've grown a lot and aged a lot since then. God helped me to get through it I really can't say there were many people to help. My first church was a a Baptist church where I was baptized.. Unfortunately there was no one there who could offer any help in how to relate my faith to my Jewish roots which I never forgot but pretty much abandoned. I met wonderful Christians along the way who I learned from how I learned about our Jewish messiah.. This was a huge attraction for me in coming to Y'shua. Kinda funny in a way. But I guess many believers have come his route. Anyway life is much better now.. I can still think and talk in complete sentences.!! So it's good.
    I am coming into my own these last several years now. I do miss Jewish fellowship however but getting very interested in my roots again and desiring to learn beyond childhood understanding. Thanks for your kind and warm words rabbi

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